New policy to standardize safety in labs

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 8:25pm

After University President Mark Schlissel pledged in April to enhance on-campus laboratory safety, the University has implemented a standardized lab safety policy, on top of creating an oversight committee on laboratory and research safety.

The new Academic Laboratory and Research Safety Policy applies to all University students, faculty and staff. The policy outlines the responsibilities of those in a management or supervisory position for the safety of those who serve under them.

Danielle Sheen, associate director of research and operations safety from the Office of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, said the policy changes intend to put more emphasis on following existing policies and formalizing current safety practices.

“There have been some recent tragedies on university campuses across the nation and University leadership wanted to be proactive to emphasize the importance of safe research to prevent any similar outcomes on our campus,” Sheen wrote in an e-mail interview.

The policy begins with emphasizing reporting and resolving health and safety issues. Position-specific responsibilities increase with the level of authority, the majority of which rests with the laboratory director.

“A culture of safety is a shared responsibility and this policy formalizes the role of everyone in the U-M research community,” Sheen wrote. “This information did not previously exist in a policy format for individuals to reference.”

The new policy also defines the roles of those on the University Laboratory and Research Safety Committee.

Sheen said there are various other committees that address specific safety concerns, but there previously wasn’t one designed to investigate general safety in research and academic labs.

The policy explains that the committee will function much like other University oversight committees, such as the Institutional Biosafety Committee or the University Committee on Use and Care of Animals. Committee members will monitor how well laboratories adhere to the policy, and serve as liaisons between unit safety committees that work with academic laboratories.

The committee, composed of faculty and staff, will review incidents and concerns regarding safe practices in labs and research, and amend policies where necessary.